From The Star Press
MUNCIE, Ind. — Shortly after the first few shots had been administered at a neighborhood COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Urban Light Community Church, a line began to form at the door.
Meridian Health Services had set up the clinic in the church’s basement, bringing along about 100 single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines on March 30. Due to the longevity of any type of COVID-19 vaccine, the goal was distribute them all that day.
Within a few hours, the healthcare system was able to do just that.
Both Senior Pastor Andrew Draper and Associate Pastor Maria Wilson wanted to bring the vaccine closer to area residents and increase accessibility for all. Wilson, chair of the Mobilizing Muncie health sub-committee, has been working alongside various local health providers, including Meridian, IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital and Open Door Health Services.
“This is a much-needed service to the people who live in the surrounding areas near Urban Light Church,” Wilson said in a release. “Many have limited resources for healthcare or opportunities to receive the COVID vaccine.”
Draper told The Star Press that those living in poverty in the community often lack access to the vaccine due to scheduling difficulties resulting from a lack of technology, or due to limited transportation opportunities to the clinics.
Another challenge has been getting marginalized groups to trust the vaccine, with hesitancy and distrust often created by a history of medical mistreatment, Draper said.
“(Another) issue would be that marginalized communities, particularly African American communities, recall a time when health providers have unjustly and unethically used medicines and clinical trials as a means of experimenting on marginalized people groups,” Draper said.
In early March, The Star Press reported 12,385 people had been fully vaccinated, 92.1% of that number being white and 2.6% being Black or African American. Since age eligibility dropped to 16 and older, the number of Black people vaccinated has increased to 3.4%.
Out of the 100 people who received vaccine doses at the church’s clinic, more than a third were Black, Draper said. The church plans to hold another clinic with Open Door Health Services at a later date.
“The response was very positive. I think people appreciated having the vaccine close by, being able to walk in without registering beforehand,” Draper said. “Being able to receive it in one dose, I think, is very important.”
Having vaccines closer to residents, one-dose shots and no pre-registration through the state’s website are all reasons for a rising popularity in neighborhood clinics.
Meridian Health Services has been able to host a handful, distributing about 300 vaccines so far. Open Door also has hosted a few, and has a growing list of upcoming events in partnership with Avondale United Methodist Church, the Ross Community Center, Destiny Christian Academy, three Muncie Housing Authority communities and the Eaton Community Center.
Lisa Suttle, Meridian’s regional vice president of clinical services, told The Star Press the response to the clinics has been positive, with many asking for the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“Being able to get to locations where people live, can walk to, feel comfortable in is very important and will increase compliance,” Suttle said.
Open Door has seen the same patterns, said Director of Community Awareness Suzanne Clem. Leaders of the community partner organizations have told the healthcare system that many prefer the local clinics because no pre-registration is required.
While the clinics have been popular, it took the Indiana State Department of Health a while to approve them. Clem said the change came for various reasons, including the state’s concern with equity in how vaccine is administered.
Despite no pre-registration for these events, the clinics are still able to provide all the necessary storage and tracking information to the state.
“Open Door has held neighborhood-based flu shot clinics and operated neighborhood COVID-19 testing sites, and our state leaders are aware of the investment we’ve made in building trust within those neighborhoods and gauging the local needs,” Clem said.
Meeting local organizations directly on their doorsteps has been critical in building trust both in the vaccine and local healthcare systems, said Jacqueline Hanoman, executive director of the Ross Community Center. It’s also something she thinks community members will appreciate.
“The very fact of you are willing to come to me, you are willing to meet me where I am, is a very powerful feeling,” Hanoman said.
The Ross Community Center has been working closely with Open Door to plan its own vaccine clinic on April 30. Since the vaccines rolled out, Hanoman said she’s seen plenty of people who are against it.
Many just don’t believe in the seriousness of the virus, or that there’s even a virus at all, Hanoman said. There’s also just a general fear of vaccines and possible side effects. To date, there has been no serious reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine in Delaware County.
The misconceptions have impacted the way Hanoman and those working at the Ross Center interact with community members when talking about the virus and vaccine.
At events like the weekly Community Market, staff have asked visitors if they’ve received the vaccine, and if not, provided them with information if needed.
“We’re being respectful of what people want, not shoving it down your throats, but being very ever present,” Hanoman said. “Letting them know we’ve already started (vaccines) and letting them know ahead of time. This is what we can do.”
The attitude towards the vaccine has impacted the way the center will host its clinic. At first, Hanoman was debating whether to hold the clinic outside or inside. Eventually, two staff members convinced her that inside was better, as it’s more private.
Another event going on at the same time. That way, if someone doesn’t want to be perceived as getting a vaccine, they can say they were there for another event.
“Whatever it takes to get the vaccine, to make the vaccination campaign successful, we are completely in favor of that,” Hanoman said.
With a growing list of upcoming neighborhood clinics on the Open Door website, Clem said the clinics will play a critical role in making sure vaccines are accessible to all.
“An additional advantage of the neighborhood vaccination events is that they help to normalize vaccination, helping people to recognize that getting a vaccine is routine and lots of friends and neighbors are getting vaccinated,” Clem said.